Home Record: 8 wins, 4 losses (6th)
Away Record: 7 wins, 5 losses (=4th)
Longest Winning Streak: 5 (Round 23-Finals Week 1)
Longest Losing Streak: 2 (Rounds 12-13, Rounds 21-22)
Players Used: 27
Tries Scored (after 26 rounds): 102
Tries Conceded (after 26 rounds): 76
As hard as you try, it’s impossible not to look at the elephant in the room when you are reviewing the Cowboys’ season. No-one will ever know if Johnathan Thurston and his men could’ve overcome Manly in the finals had they not been the victims of a crucial, substandard officiating call. No-one will know whether, had they been closer in the dying stages, they could’ve knocked off the reigning premiers and moved on to a date with eventual premiers Melbourne. Whatever, sadly the record books will show they bowed out in the second week of the finals with a 22-12 loss.
Even the most ardent Cowboys fan could stomach the decision to hand the benefit of the doubt to Sea Eagle winger Jorge Taufua in the second half. It was a tough pill to swallow but nevertheless the argument could certainly be made the speedster had scored in the corner. But what happened soon afterwards defied belief: despite pretty damning evidence to the contrary, video referees Steve Clark and Paul Simpkins ruled Manly pivot Kieran Foran did not touch the Steeden when contesting a bomb. The play was allowed to roll on, with Michael Oldfield awarded a try that gifted the opposition a 10-point buffer that also saw the Cowboys’ heads drop.
However, it’s important to not dwell too long on their controversial exit – as 2012 was a year when the Cowboys were premiership contenders, something they should be proud of.
They went a week deeper into the finals than the year before; marking just the second time in the club’s history they’ve made finals in back-to-back years.
Matt Bowen returned to some vintage form and players like James Tamou were outstanding. Young Tariq Sims looks a firebrand in the making also, with only injury cutting short what looked like a stellar year.
They will lose two good hookers in Aaron Payne and James Segeyaro from the squad going forward – an important hole that will need filling – but they should be fired up and ready to improve even further in 2013.
Where They Excelled… The Cowboys were the attacking dynamos of the NRL, leading the way with an average 24.7 points a game. Thurston and Bowen were maestros and the rest of the team fed off them brilliantly, particularly Ashley Graham who was co-leading try scorer in the competition with 21 for the year. The side also led the NRL in metres gained, averaging 1452.2 each week as the likes of Matt Scott and Tamou rumbled forward. Tamou averaged an awesome 155 metres each week as a prop; with his partner in crime Scott at 144.5. No other NRL pairing averaged more up front – and their dominance was rewarded with selection as the starting props for the end-of-year Test match against the Kiwis in Townsville.
Also, five backline players averaged triple figures, with Kane Linnett, Graham, Kalifa Faifai Loa, Bowen and Brent Tate dangerous whenever they glimpsed a half-break.
The Cowboys led the league for line-breaks with 5.3 a match with Bowen (20), Graham (19) and Linnett (14) leading the way.
The Cowboys’ defence was also solid, ranking fifth, while surrendering just the fourth-fewest metres conceded ensured they were usually always winning the battle of field position. They ranked third in the NRL for tackle-breaks also.
Where They Struggled… The Cowboys’ biggest worry was probably their error count. At 10.9 on average each week, they were ranked 13th (fourth most) in the NRL but for the most part they overcame these bumbles. They also ranked poorly for offloads (12th) but in truth they didn’t need a lot of second-phase footy to pile on the points.
The side were ranked equal second last for defusing attacking kicks – but importantly didn’t allow opposing teams to score frequently from those errors.
Also, they were equal last in the NRL at allowing in tries from dummy-half – a damning statistic no coach likes to view. Certainly, if they were ‘soft’ anywhere, it was up the middle defensively on occasions, where oppositions enjoyed some try-scoring luck capitalising on the slow, lateral movement of their big forwards.
Missing In Action… The Cowboys covered for injuries effectively throughout the season, using just 27 players for the year – with three of that number playing just a single match. Tariq Sims was the biggest casualty: having made a big splash playing for Country Origin, Sims was shortlisted for New South Wales Origin duty, before breaking his leg… again. He ended up playing just seven club games. Segeyaro (14 games) was another to spend excess time on the sidelines, and Matt Scott (18 games) also sat out a few. All in all, however, the Cowboys were largely unaffected – four players played all 26 game and 12 played at least 23.
Turning Point… Obviously the Foran ‘try’ was the turning point for the Cowboys’ season. Had the decision gone the right way they would’ve been just four down with time left on the clock to overcome a notorious slow-finishing Sea Eagles team. In terms of getting their season rolling, the three-win run from Rounds 9-11 was pretty important. Prior to the little flourish over the Dragons, Knights and Panthers, the Cowboys were struggling for consistency and it brought some much-needed confidence in the side. They stumbled to two straight losses after it but came out of the bye with a hard-fought 12-0 win over Brisbane.
A tough 8-6 loss to Manly in Round 22 also steeled the side for the run into the semis as they won their last four regular season games and first final in impressive fashion.
Best Games… The 33-16 win over Brisbane in the finals was one the club will always cling to with pride. No longer just seen as the little brother, the Cowboys tore the Broncos apart and ended the Brisbane season.
A 20-16 win in Melbourne in Round 19 was another to savour, as was the 12-0 shutout of the Broncos mid-year. Add to that a Round 2 win and in 2012 the Cowboys took down the Broncos three times in the one year – no mean feat!
Beating the Knights 32-12 in Newcastle in Round 10 was impressive and the fans in Darwin got a treat when they pummelled the Roosters 50-12 in Round 7.
Worst Games… It was an inauspicious start to the year when the Cowboys were smashed by the Titans to the tune of 18-zip in Townsville in Round 1, giving fans early concerns. Other early home losses to the Sharks (20-14 in Round 4) and Melbourne (42-18 in Round 6) also were disheartening for the Cowboys’ faithful. But the side rebounded and was pretty competitive in every other game, even when finishing on the wrong side of the ledger.
Hold Your Head High… James Tamou emerged as an Origin and Australian Test force in the front row. As stated earlier he averaged 155 metres gained and 24.8 tackles in 52.2 minutes each week. Matt Bowen was a standout – with 13 tries, 20 line-breaks, 19 line-break assists, 26 try assists, 117 tackle-breaks… wow! Also, Johnathan Thurston was at his scheming best most of the year, with 26 line-break assists, 24 try assists and 11 line-breaks. Ashley Graham was a try-scoring machine. Kane Linnett proved a valuable centre and Matt Scott trundled well all season. Pretty much the whole squad can be proud of their efforts.
Coach Neil Henry says: “I think it was a successful season. If we’d got over Manly, but we didn’t, we’d be only one game from the grand final. It’s hard to get there. You’ve got to have a lot of things go right and I feel this year a lot of things have been good for us.
“We were up there and finished fifth and were unlucky not to get in the top four. We’ll aim for the top four next year and see what happens.
“We’ve got a developing squad. We’ve got a couple of young, exciting players coming through and we’ll have Tariq Sims back next year, too. We missed him for most of the season. There’s a lot to look forward to. Our old boys, our senior players, apart from Aaron Payne, are all still here next season. The roster is pretty much settled although there might be room for one more player. We’re comfortable with the squad we’ve got.”
Conclusion… The Cowboys were robbed late in the season, no doubt about it; although there is no certainty they could’ve competed with the Storm, or even beaten Manly without the dud call. In the wash-up it was a pretty good year – it could even turn out to be the trigger to a great one next season should everyone blossom, they get decent service in the now-tricky No.9 jersey and Matt Bowen continue to shine as he approaches his twilight years.
*Statistics - NRL Stats